Now Open for Business: Be Among the First to Cruise the Northwest Passage
by Katie Jackson
The Northwest Passage isn’t a popular bucket list item. Not because it lacks in aesthetic appeal or adventure potential—after all, this is the Arctic—but because it’s inaccessible for the layperson who doesn’t work on a polar icebreaker. That’s all about to change. Thanks to melting ice and rising water levels, this infamously treacherous route connecting the Atlantic and the Pacific is becoming easier to navigate. The doors for trade are opening wide. The red carpet is rolling out for travelers.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016 will probably be a day like every other, unless you’re one of the 1,000 lucky passengers onboard the sold-out Crystal Serenity in Anchorage. The Serenity is a far cry from the much smaller adventure vessels that have taken the first leisure travelers through the Passage in the past few years. It’s the largest ship in the esteemed fleet belonging to Crystal Cruises which has won Conde Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice World’s Best Cruise Ship and Travel & Leisure’s World’s Best Large Ship Cruise Line for more than 20 years running.
When it comes to luxury, Crystal Cruises does not cut corners—even in the most remote regions. This is the same company behind the game-changing world’s first superyacht cruise. Among its well-appointed features, Serenity boasts a casino, concert venue, disco, paddle tennis courts, 1,345-square-foot penthouses and deluxe staterooms with private verandas. The ship also boasts several fine dining restaurants and as with all Crystal Cruise voyages, fares are all-inclusive. The Northwest Passage fares start around $22,000 per person, based on double occupancy. Since the 2016 voyage sold out within weeks, interested travelers will have to wait until August 2017 to make the historic crossing. (Because of weather, the “cruising” season of the Northwest Passage is incredibly short—which is good, environmentally speaking.)
The first successful all-water crossing of the Northwest Passage was in 1906. It took three years. The Serenity’s inaugural voyage will take 32 days. Granted, Crystal Cruises has resources that Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen wasn’t privy to 110 years ago. For starters, there are the ice-breaking boats that will go ahead of the 850-foot-long ship. Then there is the partnership with Expedition Voyage Consultants—the region’s premier provider of Arctic shore excursions which will include aerial expeditions via helicopter, visits to Inuit settlements, and plenty of wildlife watching opportunities.
Expedition Voyage Consultants is also key in advising best practices for environmental conservation. The Arctic is a fragile place, and residents like polar bears take precedence. While controversy surrounds the concept of cruise ships taking thousands of tourists through the Passage, Crystal Cruises is taking unprecedented precautions to limit its carbon footprint. An oil-clean up ship will accompany the Serenity in the unlikely event of a spill, and the ship will also not dump its waste in the Arctic waters.
Unlike the popular tourist destinations found on most cruise itineraries, nearly half of the Northwest Passage ports of call will be even more desolate than ghost towns. No one buys shot glasses or magnets adorned with Ulukhaktok, Nunavut; Ilulissat, Sisimiut or Nuuk. Souvenir shopping can be during the stops in Bar Harbor, Boston, Newport and New York, where the cruise ends.